Farewell to Laurence Marshall, a trucking legend
We lost a good guy in early May. If you live in Medicine Hat or Bella Coola or Sydney you’ll probably never have heard of Laurence Marshall, but he’s something of a legend in southern Ontario, particularly in the Hamilton area. And if you’ve watched the movie High Ballin’ starring Jerry Reed and Peter Fonda you’ve seen one of his early wreckers. He wasn’t in the film, shot in 1978 in and around Milton, Ontario, but that quite ordinary White Western Star played a role and was perhaps the start of his legendary status.
He later built some spectacular tow trucks and other sorts, including a glorious long-wheelbase Western Star to pull a matching camping trailer. The rig was named Miss Fallacy. That truck had a part of its very long bunk dedicated to housing his Harley, which descended to the ground on hydraulic arms when he felt like riding on two wheels instead of a bunch. He was full of original ideas like that and everything he made was built to perfection. No expense spared.
“Joke after joke, funny story after funny story. One of the best nights ever.”
Laurence was one of my best trucking chums, and like some of the trucks he built, he was larger than life. A big man with a big personality. He had very strong moral fiber and was known – and respected — for his generosity, fairness, and honesty. That need for perfection in his own builds was also evident in the work he did for customers, first as a much-loved mechanic running Larry’s Truck Service and Repairs in Stoney Creek, Ontario, and later as a dealer. He first had what turned into a very successful Western Star franchise in that same town, then switched to Mack. He sold the dealership eventually, opting for a simpler life running Lucky Bear Services, which did a lot of towing among other things. Even in his later years he liked nothing better than to hop in one of his fancy wreckers and travel many miles to retrieve some poor soul’s disabled rig. Pretty often he’d be able to affect at least a temporary repair right there on the roadside.
Perhaps my best moment with Laurence was at the open house celebration for the launch of his Western Star dealership. I was there as both reporter and friend and Ronnie Hawkins was there as the entertainment. Yes, the legendary rock and roller — think Bo Diddley – who essentially launched The Band was also one of Mr. Marshall’s best buds. At one point during the evening Laurence took my arm, said “let’s go to my office and have a quiet drink,” then grabbed Ronnie’s arm too. The three of us proceeded to empty a bottle of scotch in no time, though I’ll admit that those guys did most of the drinking. Either one of them could drink me under the table without breaking a sweat. The laughter in that room could probably have been heard in Toronto, 70 klicks away. Joke after joke, funny story after funny story. One of the best nights ever.
Sadly, Ronnie Hawkins died last month too, just three weeks or so after Laurence passed away.
My old friend was a fun-loving guy, that’s for sure, but he was also a solid pillar of the community as the saying goes. The kind of guy who supplies a truck or a trailer or whatever else is needed for the Santa Claus parade. He was a 50-year member of Union Lodge #7 Grimsby AF & AM and a member of the Stoney Creek Optimist Club for many years. He received the Stoney Creek Legacy Award in 2013.
He was also a family man, married to Lorraine for a whopping 66 years. He had three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.
Laurence was 85 when the combination of an auto-immune disorder and Covid 19 took his life. But he lived a good one, and he made my own life better.
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What a super guy. I worked for an owner operator with ICL. At that time (circa 1980) the contract stated that the owner op had to be the guy driving the truck, but my boss was ill and parked his truck for about 6 months. The big boss was Morley Foster and he called my boss, told him to hire a driver and told him not to worry about the contract. Anyway, my boss told me if anything needed to be done to truck or trailer, to bring it to Larry’s (they were personal friends). That’s how I met Laurence and over time got toknow him. What a super guy. He might have started as a mechanic, but he was an inventor, an innovator. I also reember him as an advisor. He gave me much advice that I was able to use. Super guy.
Back in the 80’s I drove Larry’s ” BIG BEAR” wrecker for him and worked around the shop and yard in between. As already said, he was a very particular guy, perfection was his only way as was his love for truck’s.
Originally he had a Peterbilt 379 in his ” Toy Shed” quanset hut which he used to pull his camper with. But when he began selling Western star truck’s he swapped it out with much reluctance with a gorgeous Western Star and back again to a 379. Often I would visit him years after I left, always to find him at Lucky Bear where he always stayed involved in all aspects of his business.
He is very missed by all of us who knew him.
Larry, you were a unique man who won’t be forgotten .